Medical Cannabis Confusion In South Africa

Photo Credit: Dan McGarvey

While the Western Cape High Court ruled on the use of medical cannabis last year, most South Africans remain confused on the issue, including some members of the South African Police Service.

The confusion has arisen because although the courts ruled that the use of cannabis by people at home is now legal, the matter was taken to the Supreme Court of Appeal where a final ruling will be made.

The Western Cape High Court’s groundbreaking ruling is that people may use cannabis only at their homes, and may grow their own cannabis at home. The ruling was met with huge excitement by Rastafarians who claimed victory for cannabis users. But months later people are still being arrested for growing and using the herb at home.

Rastafarian Mpho Kaloto from Potchefstroom says he thought the battle was won, and still doesn’t understand why he was arrested.

“I was watching on the news last year when a judge said we can grow dagga and smoke it in our homes, so I fail to understand why I was arrested after my neighbours called the cops on me. I thought what I was doing was legal,” said Jah Mpho.

The 38-year-old rastafarian said he spent a weekend in a holding cell and was charged with drug possession, and ordered to pay a R500 fine.

“I spent a whole weekend in jail, and I was fined with R500 because of two small trees that were found in my yard. Now I have a criminal record and I’m not even a criminal. I am still confused. Right now as I feel like the law has let us down. As Rastas, dagga is a part of how we live,” he said.

Privacy defense

Judge Dennis Davis, who made the ruling, said the police can still go into a home and arrest a person for cannabis, but those arrested would be afforded the opportunity to use their right to privacy as a defense when charged. The judge also ruled that it’s not up to the courts to decide whether or not there were social problems linked to drugs, or that drug-related problems should be ignored, it was up to parliament.

Witness Phele, a lawyer who has represented people accused of cannabis possession, says that the ruling hasn’t come into effect and cannabis is still illegal in South Africa.

“The case is now before the Supreme Court of Appeal. As soon as we get an SCA Judgement the law will be applicable,” he said.

According to Phele, the law currently remains the same as it was before the judgment was passed in the Western Cape High Court.

“Nothing has changed until legislature changes the Act,” he said.

According to Mpho, the police who arrested him were also confused after he told them about the ruling.

“I read the ruling to them, and that confused them. So the police arrested me in confusion, but I guess they thought they were doing their job.”

People suffering from severe and chronic pain related to multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV/AIDS were expected to be the ones to have access to medical cannabis.

Marita Schalk, who has suffered from severe back pain and has experienced heart problems says cannabis oil has assisted her for the past two years.

“I was living on a lot of medication until my doctor recommended cannabis oil two years ago. It didn’t remove all of my pain, but one thing for sure is that I feel much better now. It has helped with my heart problems, and also I used to have severe back pain all the time. Things have improved very much and so I really hope it is legalised. People need something like this,” she said.